AFTER SENATOR JIM JEFFORDS deserted the Republican Party in 2001, Chuck Hagel was furious. Not at his Senate colleague but at Republicans for not accommodating Jeffords' liberalism. Hagel had plead with Jeffords to remain a Republican, promising to help him advance his liberal "dreams" for the GOP.
"Jim, do you really believe you can further your dreams and aspirations by doing this?" Time quoted Hagel as saying to Jeffords. "We can fix this. Give us a chance." Unpersuaded, Jeffords switched parties, and Hagel proceeded to blast the GOP to reporters in terms they like to hear. "We need to take some inventory and to look into ourselves and our party and how we have handled things," he said. The party has "perception problem in this country, that we are a narrower-gauged party, that we are less tolerant."
Hagel proposed that the GOP pump air into the Big Tent by junking moral philosophy. "The Republican Party should be a multifaceted party representing many interests and many views, but generally should be anchored with a philosophy about government," he said. "It shouldn't be a philosophy about morals."
"Is our party in tune with America?" he asked fellow Republicans. Grassroots Republicans, many of whom voted for George Bush on "moral values" and oppose Jeffordsizing the party, will likely turn this question on Hagel should he run in the Republican presidential primary of 2008: Is he in tune with America? And why should the conservative grassroots vote for an anti-Republican Republican who isn't in tune with them?
In what looks like a half-baked Hamlet act, Hagel speaks of running for president to "redefine" a party that "has lost is moorings," a project unlikely to resonate with Red-State Republicans. Like John McCain, Hagel is known as a Republican "populist" even though his agenda to reform the party appeals not to the grassroots but to the tony talk-show set.
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